Find a flu shot

Flu shots can be easily obtained through a variety of health care providers, including:

National and local pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens or Walmart

County health departments

Primary care doctors’ offices

Urgent care centers

Federally qualified health centers

Hospitals

School-based clinics

To find a flu shot provider, visit flushot.healthmap.org.

The state health department says the flu has officially arrived in the Lowcountry and it’s likely here to stay through at least next spring.

The first confirmed case of the flu in Charleston was detected last week, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday in its weekly flu activity report.

One case of the flu also was confirmed in Beaufort County last week. No confirmed cases have been detected in Berkeley or Dorchester counties.

Twelve Nason Medical Center patients tested positive for the flu last week by a rapid antigen test, mostly at the North Charleston and Folly Road locations, said Dr. Barron Nason.

“It’s highly irregular, at least for this time of year,” he said. “It’s probably going to be real busy season.”

Sixteen positive rapid antigen tests were reported to DHEC last week in Charleston and Dorchester counties, but sometimes this type of test produces a false positive. Flu cultures obtained by health care providers must be reported to and confirmed by DHEC.

“We do get little spikes periodically and sometimes we’ll get some false positives,” Nason said. “These things come in waves … Sometimes, it will just kind of peter out. It may be a few weeks before we see another strong surge.”

Flu activity fluctuates week by week and also year to year. While the 2011-2012 flu season was characterized as atypically “mild,” the 2012-2013 season was considered an “active” one with cases of the disease peaking earlier than normal in late November and early December.

Approximately 63,700 South Carolinians tested positive by a rapid antigen test for the flu last season, compared with only 2,552 positive rapid antigen tests during the 2011-2012 season.

Last year, 1,720 residents in the state were hospitalized with the disease and 46 died from it, including five children under 18.

During the 2011-2012 season, only one South Carolinian died from the flu.

“At this point, it’s really difficult for us to say if it’s going to be really active flu season or a slow flu season,” said Dr. Riyadh Muhammad, a DHEC medical consultant. “We have to wait and see what cases are reported to us by providers throughout the state.”

Some of the department’s recommendations for avoiding the flu seem common sense: wash your hands well; throw away used tissues; avoid contact with sick people. But flu shots are the most effective way to prevent contracting the disease, the department recommends.

“It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to begin protecting,” Muhammad said. “We really urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The average cost of a flu shot ranges from $0 to $40, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Health insurance often covers all or some of the vaccine’s cost.

Health clinics usually administer the shots for free or for a discounted price.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.